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5 Ways to Experience the Waterton Wildflower Festival

June 9, 2016


By Tera Swanson

Waterton Lakes National Park is known as the Wildflower Capital of Canada and celebrates its diverse ecology each June with a week-long festival. Whether you’re into hiking, horseback, boating or art, here are five ways to explore the flora of this wildflower wonderland. 

Photo by Paul Zizka.

Photo by Paul Zizka.

Hugging the borders of BC and Montana, you will find Alberta’s southernmost National Park. Commonly referred to as ‘where the prairie meet the mountains’, the idyllic village of Waterton and it’s neighbouring peaks are a Rocky Mountain oasis for many reasons. For some, it’s the pristine energy shared by every visitor for the same sense of appreciation of the park alone, as it is a destination in itself and not along any major route. For others, it’s enjoyment of the park’s diverse landscapes, whether tying up a pair of hiking boots or casting a line.

But perhaps the most unique quality of Waterton Lakes National Park is its varied ecosystems giving home to half of Alberta’s entire wildflower species making it the Wildflower Capital of Canada. 

Every year these diverse communities are celebrated in the park’s very own Waterton Wildflower Festival, happening this year June 19-24, 2016.

Photo by Paul Zizka

Photo by Paul Zizka



1/ Take a Guided Walk

One of the best ways to get up close to appreciate these tiny beauties is on your own two feet. From challenging hikes up local peaks to early morning bird walks, the festival hosts several journeys covering a variety of topics such as plant identification and park ecosystems, all guided by qualified professionals and local experts.

Come along with Charlie Russell as he shares his viewpoints on bears, nature, and humans, and explains how the roles of bears interconnect with wildflower populations. Or join Lyndon Penner to discover how the now scarce bison where at one time a critical key in ecosystems home to prairie flowers, and how this will impact their future.

Read more: Three Things I’ve Learned with Charlie Russell


2 – Go for a Ride (on a Boat or Horse!)

If you prefer a more leisurely way to take in the details, a guided program by horseback will take you through several habitats to view dozens of species of wildflowers. Alternatively, the Waterton Cruise of Upper Waterton Lake is a memory not to be missed – paired with photographic pit stops and onboard presentations of Waterton’s unique geology will make it all the more worthwhile.  Or if you’d prefer to take exploration at your own place, rent a canoe to discover wildflower populations along the vast shoreline.

Photo by Paul Zizka

Photo by Paul Zizka


3/ Flex Your Artistic Muscles

Want to take the beauty of what you’ve experienced home with you? While you can’t pick your own bouquet (a big no-no with Parks Canada, there are too many people who want to appreciate them!), the festival hosts several artistic workshops to craft your own appreciation. From a beginner Art in the Park class, to three-day advanced workshops, sessions cover several experience levels and mediums, including botanical illustration, drawing, watercolours, and beading.


4/ Look Through the Lens

It’s rare you’ll walk one of the few streets of Waterton without spotting a camera slung around a visitor’s arm – and for good reason! With so much to take in, Waterton is a landscape, wildlife, and botanical photographer’s heaven. Photography workshops provide instruction on the details of perfecting these delicate wildflower shots, from covering close-up techniques to controlling lighting – be sure to bring your tripod!

→ Check out “Booming and Blooming in Waterton” by Sky England in Volume 1 of the Canadian Rockies Annual. It’s a piece about what makes Waterton Lakes National Park such a prime contender for diverse ecology and flower life! Find a Copy in Stores or Subscribe.


5/ Connect With History

The peaks, valleys, and lakes of the area are rich in history and significance to the first Aboriginal peoples who called the land their home, and the festival helps visitors to understand and appreciate this integral connection. Learn hands-on about Métis beadwork and design, and the importance of the five-petal print. Or discover the significance of Aboriginal history in physically and spiritually healing through the natural world, and how traditional medicine can ethically apply to our world today. Take a step 2 million years further back in time, and learn why the geology of Waterton makes it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Check out the full program (note that activities are determined by difficulty level).

Check out this video about the festival, produced by Uppercase Creative.

Whether she’s booting down trail runs, trekking up peaks or travelling the globe, Tera Swanson is never content idling for long. Pairing this with her love for writing came as natural as her Bow Valley backyard.

The views and opinions expressed in the articles on are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.

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